In March 2020, in common with many other UK businesses, every member of the GSC team began a prolonged period of enforced remote working. All, that is, except one. Throughout the pandemic, office manager Sian Bearfield remained in the office, ensuring our people had the equipment and information they needed to keep delivering legal services to our clients.
For the latest in our series celebrating 50 years of GSC Solicitors LLP, Sian shares her story.
A few weeks before lockdown arrived the direction of travel became clear: we needed to begin making preparations for if (and more likely when) the country shut down.
Many of our fee earners already had the facility to work from home, but the office was always the default. The bulk of the IT was here. All of the support staff were entirely office based.
In the two weeks before Boris Johnson made his Monday night address to the nation, I was busy ensuring everyone had the equipment they needed at home. Most fee earners worked from two screens in the office, but at home they tended to use just their laptops. With no idea how long the lockdown might last, I cleared our office of as much equipment as possible, shipping out anything that could be spared (monitors, keyboards etc) so everyone could create a set-up as close as possible to the one they enjoyed in the office.
It wasn’t just their ability to do their jobs that mattered; I needed to be mindful of everyone’s wellbeing, so setting up each member of the team for home working was also a matter of ergonomics, posture, mental well-being and best practice in terms of screentime. I didn’t know it at that point, but we were all about to become familiar with Zoom fatigue.
Every member of the support team was also set up for remote working and, on Monday 23 March 2020, we ran a full trial, with every member of the GSC team working remotely. That evening, the Prime Minister made his “From this evening people must stay at home…” address. GSC’s offices—together with the rest of the City of London—fell silent.
I think many of us suspected lockdown might last couple of months. In the end it was almost double that. For virtually all of that time, I was the only person in the office. Three days a week I made the journey to Ely Place, where I would distribute the post that still arrived daily, send files requested by our solicitors and continue to send out equipment when our people needed it. When the day’s immediate issues were resolved I would write up some of the office policies that needed to be made digital: first on the list, our Covid policy.
It was a tough period. Coming into work every day was eerie. I felt alone. I suspect everyone else felt much the same, which is why I spent so much of my day ringing round team members, ensuring they felt supported. The partners were at pains to ensure that, even though we were not physically together, we remained a team and everyone had a duty to support everyone else.
Our two office-wide Zoom calls each week became really important. One was entirely work-focused. The other was entirely social, an opportunity to just talk, to connect, to see another friendly face. We knew without it, it wasn’t just relationships that would suffer; the work would too.
I’ve always felt the role of the support team is to stay in the background and to quietly go about the business of ensuring everything runs like clockwork. It was strange to find myself occupying a far higher-profile role. Even though I didn’t always feel it, I tried to remain calm. I relied on process and organisation, staying on top of new information to ensure things ran smoothly, because I knew people were relying on me.
We really did make the best of a horrible situation. I’m extremely proud that we all came through it.
One day, months later, I arrived at the office to find I wasn’t the only person there. After being on my own for so long it was quite an emotional feeling. I’d missed it. I’d missed them. Just being able to just walk past someone’s desk and talk to them was such a welcome shock to the system. I’ve tried to remember that feeling.
Even now I still walk the office every day, checking in with my GSC family, making sure they have everything they need.
After all— and as we all discovered—you never know when the opportunity to do such simple things may be taken away from you.
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